August 12th, 2011
12:10 PM ET

Bachmann faces theological question about submissive wives at debate

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN)– Thursday night in the Fox News GOP debate in Ames, Iowa, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, was asked by columnist Byron York whether she would be "submissive to her husband" if she were elected president.

Before the congresswoman had a chance to answer, a chorus of boos rang down from the audience.

"Thank you for that question, Byron," Bachmann responded with a wry smile. "Marcus and I will be married for 33 years this September 10. I'm in love with him. I'm so proud of him. What submission means to us, it means respect. I respect my husband. He's a wonderful godly man and great father.

"He respects me as his wife; that's how we operate our marriage," she continued. "We respect each other; we love each other. I've been so grateful we've been able to build a home together. We have wonderful children and 20 foster children. We've built a business and life together, and I'm very proud of him."

"She answered it the most appropriate way in the context it was being asked. She was being asked a deeply theological question in front of millions of Americans," said Gary Marx, the executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. "That's why there was such a strong and visceral booing over the very premise of the question."

Marx, who was in the balcony at the debate Thursday, said that for Iowa evangelicals, this is a nonissue.

"Most evangelicals know it's not easy to teach in a 30-minute sermon on Sunday. It's impossible to answer in a minute sound bite. Her answer about respect is the only one that can be given," he said.

The question of wives being submissive to their husbands comes from a passage in the New Testament in Paul's letter to the Ephesians. The letter was originally written in Greek, and there are various translations of the Greek word Paul uses.

"Whatever someone thinks Paul means of submission of wives to husbands ... it doesn't leave any room for exploitation," said David Matthewson, an associate professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. "I would say her response was very consistent with the text."

In the New International Version translation of the Bible, the version most preferred by evangelical Christians and nondenominational churches, a camp Bachmann has said she belongs to, Ephesians 5:22-24 are translated as:

"Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything."

The letter goes on to say in verse 25:

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."

"The English word 'submit' is as good a translation as any without using a bunch of words. The problem, though, is the word 'submit' in English carries connotations for most readers that may not have been there in the Greek," Mathewson said. "In English, we think of forced submission or exploiting. ... I don't think that's in the Ephesians passage."

In the King James Version, the first mass-produced English translation of the Bible, the word is translated as "submit."

In Eugene Peterson's translation of the Bible, "The Message," which aims to use more common English, he translates submissive as "understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ."

Historically, the fifth chapter of Ephesians has been taken in context of Paul's writings to mean Christian spouses should operate as loving equals, though the word "submissive" has long been a divisive one for Christian women.

"It seems it's been, in the 20th century, to have caused a lot of issues in North American Christianity," Mathewson said.

Former Alaska Gov. Sara Palin, another prominent evangelical politician, weighed in on the issue Friday in Iowa.

Palin told CNN's Don Lemon, "That's her opinion, that, to her, submission to her husband means respecting her husband, and I respect my husband, too."

Lemon asked, "If (husband) Todd said don't run, would you not run?"

"I can't imagine my husband ever telling me what to do politically," Palin responded. "He has never told me what to do when it comes to a political step, and I appreciate that. I respect you for that, Todd; thank you."

Bachmann identifies herself as an evangelical Christian. Her congressional office said recently that she has been attending a nondenominational church as her schedule allows.

She has shown over the years that she is fluent in "Christianese," using words and phrases that ring true to evangelical listeners.

She has long been a darling of evangelical voters, serving as keynote speaker at anti-abortion events in Washington and making the rounds at prayer rallies at the Capitol. It is one of the reasons she is expected to do well in Iowa, where the GOP base is filled with evangelical voters.

Her faith has caused a few bumps in the road in the campaign. Her husband's Christian counseling program came under fire by critics for a controversial therapy. She formally pulled her membership in her former church days before she formally announced that she was seeking the White House.

But Marx points out that fielding a question like this in a debate only helps her. "In Iowa, it reiterates that evangelical identity she has."

And, he noted, the last Republican to win the Iowa caucus in 2008, former Southern Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee, got asked a lot of questions about the finer points of his faith, too.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church and state • Michele Bachmann • Politics

soundoff (1,672 Responses)
  1. Frogist

    Words are important. "Respect" and "submit" mean two different things. She used the word "submission" when decribing what she did with her husband and law school. Also she didn't actually answer the question asked. If she did we might have more to go on as to how she really interprets that particular scripture. To me that means yes, she would submit to her husband, but she refuses to explicitly tell us that knowing how badly it looks in the light of day.
    Also w.t.f. Sarah Palin. Don't you get it? You weren't there to debate with the others. You're not running. Go away.

    August 12, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  2. Don

    Gosh, I have to read these sections in the Bible with my wife. I think she missed them.

    August 12, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  3. stephen douglas

    I think she handled the question with tremendous grace and courage under fire. Does not matter what you think of her, that question came out of the blue and was booed by many in the audience. It did not faze her, she did not stumble or get ruffled, she answered it dead on. I believe she is honest, and that is more than can be said for some of the other candidates who beat around the bush instead of answering some of the questions thrown at them.

    August 12, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • Don

      She has retained some of the leading "trainers" available to teach her how to react (or not react)...and it is apparent that she is a good student. Of course it is all nonsense because it is a theatrical production.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • stephen douglas

      Don...I agree, but all these candidates do the same thing, so you cannot harp on her training. Especially when several of the well prepared candidates gave answers that did not address the questions asked.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • Don

      That's exactly what I said "Of course it is all nonsense because it is a theatrical production." However, she is different since unlike many of the other candidates I believe Bachmann has quite rigid theology/philosophy which she is very successfully avoiding. Whereas someone like Romney's philosophy may be "I want to win" or Palin can take the same handler's that are now working with Bachmann and totally "go rogue", ignoring their judgement, I think Bachmann is following orders quite well.

      She scares the heck out of me.

      August 13, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  4. Debbie

    Can she be in line with American/World history too? So far, that's a no.

    August 12, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  5. rosita

    Bachmann needs to be educated, maybe she should open her diccionary.........
    Another moron Republican, she must have studied with Palin

    August 12, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Laura

      Did you not read the article that says that submit now has a negative connotation whereas back with the Bible was written it did not and it meant more that understand and support.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • Bibletruth

      Paul did not consult a modern american dictionary. Her answer was perfect. Just like the venue she was in, we here cannot elaborate too much either. But if you care to learn about it take the time to do so. Words like meek, submit, etc. are almost completely different in todays modern meaning or everyday usage. For example in the bilbe Moses is called a meek person...meaning not the current typical english dictionary meaning, but a mighty man for God. Like many things, we need to know the lingo or the meaning of the lingo in its context. For example, according to the bible a wife is never to submit to her husband if he wants to lead her into sinful activities.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • mrs2011

      Maybe you should open your "diccionary" too.
      Did you read the article at all? The modern English connotation of "submit" differs greatly from the ancient Greek understanding of that word. When Paul wrote Ephesians, women were treated like cattle, and the fact that he orders husbands to sacrificially love their wives always seems to be passed over just because English speakers get in such a fit over the word "submit."

      August 12, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  6. Zebula

    Why is the GOP so full of religious whackos? Are Republicans so scared, weak and stupid that they need God to tell them how to run the country? Maybe the words they need help with are not "submit" but "separation of church and state"!

    August 12, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • Jeff Bertram

      The republican party IS the christian party. That is their entire platform. That's why they are incapable of individual intelligent thought. They only spew what their pedophile pastors tell them to say.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Laura

      Christians are not weak nor stupid. This country and what it stands for would not even be here if it weren't for our Christian forefathers and their beliefs that lead them to stand up and fight for this country against the biggest world power of the time.

      You get to mouth your hate speech because of the very freedoms these Christians provided you. If this country was founded under any other value system, would likely not be here or you would not have the freedom to disagree with anyone.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • bigeasymickey

      If the Republicans are a true Christian party or the party of Christ, then they woold embrace Jesus's mission and message of peace and taking care of one another.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • BldrRepublican

      You obviously need to have the very same conversation with the person who asked Bachmann the question – he was obviously NOT separating church and state with his question. Let me ask you this – how would you expect Hillary Clinton to answer the question? Remember, she stayed married to a confessed cheater.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • pfeffernusse

      Laura, some of the Founding Fathers were men of faith. Thomas Paine, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Ethan Allen, and Benjamin Franklin were all casual deists, agnostics, or atheists. However, the men of the Continental Congress were keenly aware of what happened when religion was involved in law and were determined that this NOT be the case with the new United States.

      BldrRepublican, Hilary Clinton never claimed that she was submissive to her husband because of what she read in the Bible. Michele Bachmann DID. Her calling card in this campaign is her evangelical beliefs. Asking her questions about how her faith affects her decision making is entirely relevant

      August 13, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  7. unimpeachable

    Robots for office, please! Vulcans are are close second. I vote for Data.

    August 12, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  8. chris

    have you seen women in iowa (short, fat, mild mannered and meek), they look like they get their spines pulled at birth. no wonder they are swooned by the likes of plainlame and bleechman, they are so weak they see any woman standing up as monolithic...

    August 12, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • Tacoma

      Obviously you've never been to Iowa. There are some from strong, intellectual women there on both sides of the isle.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Amy Spadoni

      You are an ignorant fool buddy boy. Let me tell you something. I could bet you anything that I am prettier than you are handsome, that I could run further and faster than you. That I could more than likely kick your butt in several areas of fitness. You may think I am being a little bold, I am just for the sake of your dumb comment. Being an Iowa girl I learned to be humble. You are a sad man. Bored enough to post something like this just to make people mad. Just to wait to who throws it back at you. Loser. You suck just like Michelle Bachmann.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  9. ThisIsSilly

    What a pathetic distraction from the real issues we are facing.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  10. Brian Reynolds

    Wow, so the right wing can interpret the meaning of the word 'submissive' however they please but the word abomination, when used towards gays, is not up for debate on meaning or context? The Bible is the only weapon of mass destruction I worry about in this World. Not that the Bible is inherently evil, but those that take it and use it for their evil agendas are to blame.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • Zebula

      Very nicely said.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • albert

      This is so true. The Bible is not the problem. It is the interpretation of it. For example, many so-called "Christian Teachings" are actually pagan traditions and things borrowed from Greek mythology. Christmas & and Easter for example were never celebrated by Jesus early disciples. The teaching that bad people go to hell for eternity to suffer is not a biblical teaching (how does one who is an invisible non-fleshy being burn?). The Rapture was invented in the 1850's and is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Evangelicals are not Christians from the Bibles perspective. They teach and learn lies.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • BldrRepublican

      It's amazing those of you who proudly state you are so anti-religious anything, claim to know so much about religious teachings. Please explain. Did you read the Bible and speak with those who have studied it their entire lives? Or did you read some athiestic rant and accept it as truth?

      I suspect the latter.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • pfeffernusse

      BldrRepublican, you will find that many atheists know a great deal about the Bible and religion in general. For many, it’s part of the process in becoming an atheist. Because atheists don’t take anything on faith, they tend to be more research-oriented. Personally, I have read the entire Bible. I’ve done extensive reading on the major faiths of the world. I find that I know more about Christ’s message than most Christians. I find that most Christians just accept what they are told instead of doing the academic work.

      August 13, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  11. Brian

    The question was phrased very poorly, and allowed both Bachman and the author of this article to avoid the major point that York was trying to raise: If she was willing to accept a career that she didn't particularly like simply because her husband told her to, then what will prevent her from doing the same thing while President of the United States? Granted, these are the same kinds of charges leveled against Kennedy and Romney as regards their relationships with the Catholic and Mormon churches, respectively, but in these latter cases there was never a case where someone could link a Papal or Mormon Council decree to the actions of either one. For Bachman, there is a specific case, and it's not a minor one. It's a valid question that has yet to be answered directly. After all, people are thinking of electing her, not her husband, as the ultimate decision-maker for our country.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  12. albert

    The bottom line is that a true Christian would never run for political office. Jesus was clear in stating that his followers would not be partial and would be "No part of the world".

    August 12, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • Bibletruth

      And also not a respector of persons....just by the way as the justice system should be.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  13. badsector

    Oh, I see. When the question is inconvenient, just redefine the meaning of words that don't need any redefining. And this is a good answer? Do they think us morons? Okay, they obviously do.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  14. Laura

    wait did they ask the male candidates about loving and honoring their wives?! Why do the women have to answer family oriented questions that would be off limit to a male?

    August 12, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Nordette

      Laura it was a legitimate question for a female candidate who professes to be a born-again Christian b/c of how the verb "to submit" is perceived in modern America. The question is asking, in light of Bachmann's declared faith, will she be running the country or will she be demurring to her husband on matters of state. It would be stupid to ask a male candidate who claims he is an Evangelical Christian this question because nothing in Christian dogma suggests a man should demur to a woman when making important decisions about the future. The man is likened to the head and God. The woman is likened to the body–a connection of organs, bone and muscle that do not think but take directions from the head.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Laura

      The still don't ask a man what is his take on loving his wife as Jesus loves his church. I think it was inappropriate... does she look like her husband tells her what to do or say? I don't think so.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • Jeff Bertram

      Laura you are but another (of millions) of hypocritical christians who choose what to abide by and what to ignore in you fictional novel called the bible.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  15. chris

    Bachmann is a classic case of psychopath. Fortunately for her and others like her (her fellow candidates) there is a flock of people so stupid and scared that she can wrap around her finger.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Laura

      Have you ever wonder if it is maybe you that is the follower? maybe you are the crazy or stupid one?

      Why is it when someone disagrees with your point of view you feel you need to call them names? Doesn't that right there prove stupidity?

      She can have her own opinions and views that are opposite of yours but that does not make her an idiot or crazy.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Peace2All


      " She can have her own opinions and views that are opposite of yours but that does not make her an idiot or crazy. "

      Arguably, that would depend on what her opinions and views are, right...?


      August 12, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  16. tad pole

    So if I understand this correctly, theological viewpoints from the Christian doctrine are now main points in the presidential candidacy debate? Lord help us.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Laura

      Only for women candidates.... the men can lie cheat and steal but we don't care about their doctrine.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Tad Pole

      This is news to you...?


      August 12, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • Jeff Bertram

      only to evangelicals. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison are rolling over in their graves to the christiansation of America by the current revisionists.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
  17. BuckeyeJim

    So it seems that the English Bible is not the inerrant word of God, we need to use the Greek version. Interesting!!!

    August 12, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Bibletruth

      Well, your put down is no putdown at all to those who have some biblical knowledge. For example,there are 4 specific Greek words for "love", each one has a somewhat different meaning. Yet there is only one english word "love", so without knowing that , some of the bible passages seem strange. But that shouldnt make someone give up and discard the bible. They can search it out, ask others, and they will find out the completely harmonious reasons why one word rather than another is used, and that goes for any number of similar situations in the bible. Now, more modern...if someone says lets go here or there and have a gay time...they will get strange looks...but not so just a few years ago. We must not get into the mindset that the universe revolves around what we personally think we know or understand and others who say things different are bad or to be ridiculed.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  18. shannon g

    Wow! These candidates really think the American people are stupid. Keep your dictionaries close by, they are changing the meaning of the words. It's so frightening to think that she is submissive, and her tele-tubbie husband tells her what to do.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  19. Wanderer

    I'm not angry enough at Obama to vote for this moron.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  20. Bill

    If she was my wife and she was president, no way her job will interfere with my manly needs. Don't care what national security meeting she in, my needs come first.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Tracy722

      Bill I'm glad someone has a sense of humor :)))

      August 12, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.